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Thesis Information for Philosophy Students: Choosing a Topic / Committee

Getting Started

One of the most common frustrations early on in the thesis process is the need to choose a topic.You have to commit to something, you might even have a few ideas based on your interests or courses you've taken, but how do you know if your topic is right for a thesis?

Choosing a topic shouldn’t be taken lightly:

In the short term, your topic will determine who you choose to work with as your advisor, the remaining members of your thesis committee, and the amount of research you will need to do before you begin writing.

In the long term, it may influence your continuing interest in the field, determine your choice of PhD programs, and possibly even influence your prospects for jobs within and outside of academia. 

Having said that, don't stress out about it too much. Your thesis is not intended to be your life's work. Rather, the aim of your thesis is for you to show:

  • That you are able to work in a scholarly manner
  • That you understand your topic
  • That you are acquainted with the principal works published on it
  • That you are able to think critically about it

To do this, your thesis does have to show some independent thinking. However, that doesn't mean that you have to come up with your own theory, or that you have to make a completely original contribution to human thought. There will be plenty of time for that later on in your career (if you decide to continue on and obtain your PhD).

An ideal thesis will be:

  • Well written
  • Clear and straightforward
  • Accurate when it attributes views to other philosophers
  • Contain thoughtful critical responses to the text(s) you will discuss. It need not always break completely new ground

Need help choosing a topic or want to look at a few theses written by former students? Browse and read philosophy theses that were successfully defended in: ScholarWorks @ Georgia State University

Choose Your Topic Early

In order to finish in a timely manner, it is best to:

  • Have a thesis topic and an advisor selected by the end of the Spring semester of your first year in the program.
  • Spend the summer between your first and second years reading and taking notes, plus developing an outline of how your thesis will be structured.
  • After your Prospectus has been approved, start writing during the Fall semester of your second year.
  • Preferably have a finished rough draft by the end of the Fall semester of your second year.

Choose the Right Topic

A few things to consider when choosing a topic:

  • Choose a topic that will hold your interest over the course of the project.
  • Make your topic broad enough to address an important issue, yet narrow enough to address that issue thoroughly in the time/space allotted. 
  • Understand the limitations of your topic/project. Make sure you know how much you can reasonably expect to accomplish in the time you have.
  • Understand that your topic will seem bigger once you get into your research. If your topic is interesting and rich, new issues and new ideas will always emerge, so focus your ideas tightly as soon as you are able. If you can’t summarize your argument in a single paragraph, your topic is too big.
  • It's often a good idea to develop a paper you’ve already written (it’s best, however, if you stay away from papers you wrote as an undergraduate). Think about pertinent classes you have taken or may want to consider taking while you are working on your thesis. Writing a thesis is very time-consuming, so you may appreciate being able to tie it into your other academic work.Some professors will allow you to write a paper for their class that's on your thesis topic, but only marginally related to the focus of the course. Ask your professor if you want to do this to make sure that it’s suitable for the class.

Choose Your Advisor and Committee

In writing your thesis, you will be assisted by the thesis committee, comprised of an advisor and usually, two other faculty members.

Your advisor:

  • Helps you with the development of the project
  • Guides you through the process
  • Sets deadlines and keeps you on track
  • Provides assistance with research and writing

All members of your committee:

  • Give you feedback and provide suggestions to improve your thesis
  • Attend the thesis defense
  • Vote on whether your thesis is of sufficient quality to be approved

Regulations regarding the composition of the committee can be found here:

Basic regulations for composition of the thesis committee:

  • The Thesis Advisor must be either a lecturer, tenure-track, or tenured member of Georgia State's Department of Philosophy. 
  • The committee must have at least 3 members who are either lecturers, tenure-track or tenured members of Georgia State's Department of Philosophy. 
  • Additional committee members may be from outside the Department of Philosophy or outside Georgia State.   

When choosing an advisor/chair find someone you know you can work with. It’s preferable if you’ve had the professor in a class previously, so you know how he or she works. Regardless, spend as much time with your advisor as possible to get a sense of his/her expectations and how you would work together.   

Although not absolutely necessary, it’s helpful if your other committee members know something about the topic on which you plan to write.

Addenda and modifications to the basic regulations (from the Department of Philosophy):

  • Students on the Neurophilosophy track are encouraged to have at least one committee member from outside of the Department of Philosophy who works with Georgia State University’s Neuroscience Institute and who is approved by the thesis advisor. For these students, the committee need have only two members who are either lecturers, tenure-track, or tenured members of Georgia State’s Department of Philosophy.
  • For the purposes of composing committees, faculty who are joint appointed in Philosophy and another department count as members of the Department of Philosophy.